Hermann Park is a 445-acre (180-hectare) urban park in Houston, Texas, situated at the southern end of the Museum District. The park is located immediately north of the Texas Medical Center and Brays Bayou, east of Rice University, and slightly west of the Third Ward. Hermann Park is home to numerous cultural institutions including the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Hermann Park Golf Course, which became one of the first desegregated public golf courses in the United States in 1954. The park also features a large reflecting pool, numerous gardens, picnic areas, and McGovern Lake, an 8-acre (32,000 m2) recreational lake.
One of Houston's oldest public parks, Hermann Park was first envisoned as part of a comprehensive urban planning effort by the city of Houston in the early 1910s. Following the recommendation of a 1913 report which identified the then-rural area between Main Street and Brays Bayou as ideal for a large urban park, real estate investor and entrepreneur George H. Hermann, who owned most of the area and served on the city's parks board, bequeathed his estate to Houston for use as a public green space in 1914. By 1916, famed landscape architect George Kessler had completed a master plan for the park which was gradually implemented throughout the following decades. Ultimately, Hermann Park and Rice University are two clear expressions of the City Beautiful movement in Houston.
The opening of the Houston Zoo in the mid-1920s and requisition of a large southern portion of the park for the establishment of the Texas Medical Center in the 1940s fundamentally altered the scope and configuration of the space, though significant elements of the Kessler plan—such as the north-south axis extending from Montrose Boulevard—remain and have been expanded upon. Lack of funding and maintenance in the latter half of the 20th century led to the formation of the Hermann Park Conservancy in 1992, which has since leveraged over $120 million to renovate and remake broad areas of the park. Today, Hermann Park welcomes over six million visitors annually; the Houston Zoo was named the second most-visited zoo in the United States in 2017, with over 2.5 million visitors.
Hermann Park was presented to the City of Houston by George Hermann in 1914, and is now Houston's most historically significant public green space. Over the years, the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and one of the first desegregated public golf courses in the United States all have added to the Park's importance as a recreational destination.
By the late 1980s however, due to insufficient public resources and very high public attendance, the park became rundown and entered a state of disrepair. In response, a group of committed and visionary Houstonians formed the nonprofit organization known as the Friends of Hermann Park (FHP) to encourage the development of more attractive, usable green space in Hermann Park and to promote the restoration of the Park to its originally intended standards of beauty.
In 1993, FHP commissioned a master plan for Hermann Park from Hanna/Olin Partnership of Philadelphia. This Master Plan, created in consultation with the City of Houston and various stakeholders, was adopted in 1997 by Houston City Council. In 1995, Friends of Hermann Park adopted a master plan for Hermann Park that has provided a “blueprint” for all subsequent renovations and enhancements to the Park. In 2004, Friends of Hermann Park changed its name to the Hermann Park Conservancy (HPC) to reflect an institutional and permanent commitment to stewardship of Hermann Park’s natural resources and physical infrastructure.
In an international competition, the Rice Design Alliance invited designers to set the tone and revitalize the main entry and reflecting pool that formed a key axis for Hermann Park, “The Heart of the Park”, and to create a contemporary update to the park's earliest plans by George Kessler and a subsequent, more formal Hare & Hare plan in 1936. SWA Group, an international landscape and urban design firm working in conjunction with W.O. Neuhaus Architects and other consultants, was selected over 100 respondents. The most striking of the changes to the 18-acre (7.3 ha) project area was a narrower, more inviting 80-foot-wide (24 m) by 740-foot-long (230 m) reflection pool. It establishes the formal central axis for the space and its slight narrower design afforded elegant pedestrian promenades as well as a double-row of mature Live Oak trees – one row that had been planted in the 1920s to honor veterans of WW I, and a second row that was added as part of the project. Noted in a winning entry for the 2005 National Award of Excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the “Heart of the Park” reflecting pool utilized a biofiltration system of gravel beds and perforated pipes to trap organics so that they naturally decompose. Porous paving systems and decomposed granite also limit potential damage from increased water run-off from the site.
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The Hermann Park Conservancy continues working in partnership with the City of Houston to secure funds and manage the design of projects to be undertaken in the Park:
The Conservancy also developed a Maintenance and Operations Master Plan Study for Hermann Park - the first such comprehensive study ever for this flagship park of Houston. The study identified many concerns for preserving and protecting Hermann Park, including a gap of 20,000 maintenance hours for the Park. In response, the Conservancy hired a Manager of Volunteer Programs. In 2004 over 1,200 volunteers provided over 14,000 hours of volunteer service in the park.
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